It is a game of suits and bids associated with genteel respectability and card-playing acumen rather than vice and sin. But the tip-off alerted the Thailand Interior Ministry officials to a supposedly suspicious gathering of foreign nationals engaged in an alleged gambling operation. Some police surrounded the building to ensure none of the suspects escaped, although two players slipped behind a curtain, scurried downstairs and disappeared into the streets of Pattaya, a seaside city renowned for sex tourism, a seedy nightlife and as a base for foreign gangsters. And so it was that a 50-strong anti-vice squad stormed up the stairs and into a room above a restaurant the beachside resort of Pattaya. There they found a dozen British retirees, along with another 19 Westerners, coming towards the end of a regular Wednesday afternoon session of Bridge. Even though no money was changing hands in a country where gambling on cards is illegal, the 31 players ranging in age from 50 to 84 were carted off by the police and held for 12 hours.
Their offence, the vigilant officers established, was that they were using more than 120 cards at one time – in violation of the Playing Cards Act of 1935. The cards also lacked official government customs excise markings. Video footage shows the elderly detainees, including an 84-year-old Dutch woman with a walking stick, dutifully climbing into an open-sided police van. All were released at 3am on Thursday after paying bail of 5,000 Baht (£96) following the intervention of a Thai aristocrat who now heads the Asia-Pacific Bridge Federation.
The most high profile detainee was Barry Kenyon (pictured below), a former British Honorary Consul who received the MBE for his services to Britain and founded the Jomtien and Pattaya Bridge Club more than 30 years ago. “It was an ordeal for our elder members some of whom are over 80 years old,” he said. “Luckily someone from a local 7/11 store provided a shuttle service for food and police provided water. This morning we all attended the police station again as the ‘black Maria’ was prepared to take us to court. Then everything came to an end. The police said charges were being dropped. They saw the computer we had to record each players bridge records and must have thought something big was going on. It was all quite absurd.”
An Australian Bridge champion was among 31 westerners who were arrested. Three time National Australian Bridge Champion, Avon Wilsmore, says police ordered the Bridge players to sign false declarations to say they were gambling or they would be detained. Mr Wilsmore said that he has an “aversion to signing false declarations”. But a local police encouraged them to sign. “Her view was that this 'confession' was no big deal, we could retract and contest the matter in court,” Mr Wilsmore said. “Getting home was preferred, so that's what we did.” The players were forced to pay £96 bail and had their passports confiscated. Pattaya's police chief Sukthat Pumphanmuang said police were 'just doing their job' in defence of the raid which has been ridiculed globally.
The players believe they fell foul of a Thai woman with a grudge against a Western man who worked for the club’s landlord. The raid was conducted after a tip-off was filed with an anti-corruption centre set up by the junta. “We had another raid three months ago by the local police so when this one took place we just carried on playing,” explained one detained Briton. “But this time they carted us all off.”
It took the arrival in Pattaya of Khunying Chodchoy Sophonpanich, the Thai President of the Asia-Pacific Bridge Federation, to persuade the police not to pursue gambling charges against those detained. “Bridge is not a well-known game in Thailand and a lot of people associate playing cards with gambling,” she explained. “We are trying to build up the popularity of Bridge here and it is very important that the game is not linked to gambling.”
The club still faces sanctions for playing with more cards than legally allowed in one place and using packs for which Thai import duties had not been paid. The British player explained that all the packs had brought into the country legally and been donated by visitors. The club's website has meanwhile been updated to address the swoop. It reads: "CLOSED TEMPORARILY whilst we get a new licence to have cards on the premises. All problems have been solved with understanding by the authorities."
Well there wasn't a police raid last night at the Oxshott Bridge Club, but there were one or two Members who were seen slipping away early on the rumour that there might be one!!?? You can read all about it in the Report by clicking on the "Competitions" tab in the Menu to the left of this box. Alternatively you can study the full Leaderboard and the individual Travellers by clicking on the "Latest Result" button at the top right of this page.